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Nils Roll-Hansen, _The Lysenko Effect: The Politics of Science_ (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2005). 335pp (paperback), ISBN 9781591022626 Reviewed for H-Eugenics by James Allen Nealy, Jr. (University of Houston-Downtown) In _The Lysenko Effect: The Politics of Science_ Nils Roll-Hansen, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Oslo, offers a compelling analysis of the history of Trofim Lysenko’s oft-maligned genetic theories. Lysenko, a peasant-born Ukrainian agronomist (a term used for a specialist in the production of plants for various uses), developed a framework of agricultural and biological theories, broadly referred to as Lysenkoism, that dominated science in the USSR for over twenty five years. Lysenko’s most important hypothesis, “vernalization,” claimed that by manipulating temperatures scientists could improve a winter grain into a grain that could be used in the spring as well. The potential benefit of this idea was of obvious interest in the Soviet Union where, by the late 1920s, famine and war had severely stunted food production for well over a decade. Trofim Lysenko’s ideas were essentially an application of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s postulation of the inheritability of acquired characteristics. Lamarck’s theory, which the majority Russian biological community accepted, suggested that traits obtained by an organism during its lifetime could be passed on to its offspring. Succinctly, Lysenko claimed that once a plant had been manipulated to become a “spring grain” its offspring would be born with the same attributes– it would, in essence, change permanently to produce grain in spring. Roll-Hansen points out that these ideas were not a relic relative to early twentieth century Russian science and that a few of Lysenko’s theories remain at least respected in the contemporary scientific community. The author notes that several scientists, such as notable evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin and Harvard mathematical ecologist Richard Levins, regard Lysenkoism as a genuine effort to contribute to scientific thought. Roll-Hansen displays some support for this attitude, showing, for instance, that Lysenko did make several important contributions to the study of plant physiology with his theory of vernalization. Lysenko’s work prompted British cotton breeder S.C. Harland to claim (overly enthusiastically) that vernalization was among the most profound accomplishments in the history of science. The author also notes that, though the concept of vernalization was based on eventually discredited neo-Lamarckian principles, the term “vernalization” is still used by agronomists when describing the manipulation of plant development via low temperatures. Thus, Roll- Hansen provides readers with significant evidence that Lysenko had a real influence on agriculture and plant physiology, both inside and outside the Soviet Union. Roll-Hansen dedicates a fascinating chapter to discussing the issue of Lysenkoist adherence to the Soviet interpretation of Marxism-Leninism. He contends that the context of the economic and cultural system in the Soviet Union is vital for explaining the reception of Lysenko’s ideas and their political use. Because the new Soviet regime’s approach to science was based largely on the ideas of prominent Bolshevik intellectual Nikolai Bukharin and his version of Marxism-Leninism, it was committed to adopting one of the fundamental tenets of Marxist doctrine: that the world must be changed, not interpreted. The Soviets shunned “bourgeois science,” which Bukharin claimed had wasted resources and compromised the needs of the people by concentrating on academic quests for abstract theoretical knowledge rather than on endeavors that would improve the lives of human beings. And Lysenko’s work, early Soviets believed, would significantly help them meet that challenge. It was during this era that Lysenko’s rise to intellectual prominence began. Bukharin believed that Soviet ideology should achieve a “unity of theory and practice” and made improving the peoples’ lives the expressed purpose of Socialist science. Coincidentally, Lysenko concentrated his efforts solely on practical concerns. Roll-Hansen argues that the amalgamation of Bukharinist Marxism-Leninism with Lysenkoism, itself motivated by achieving material benefits for the people, was actually the basis for Lysenko’s prominence. The author concludes, with some persuasiveness, that Trofim Lysenko was not a tool of Stalin or the Soviets, nor an ardent proponent of Marxist theory. Rather, he was simply a plant physiologist with new theories concerning agriculture based on neo-Lamarckian genetic theory still viable in the early twentieth century. Lysenko’s ideas just happened to fall perfectly in line with Moscow’s political agenda. This politicization of science, and the Soviets’ goal of promoting people from the working and peasant classes, made Lysenko’s humble background an important promotional tool for the Soviet state and further explains his attractiveness to the Bolshevik regime. Lysenko’s peasant origins, and his view of science, were heavily influenced by his origins. Roll-Hansen depicts him as a dedicated pragmatist who “was not occupied with trivial theoretical problems remote from real life” (57). The “Barefoot Professor,” as Lysenko came to be known, became the most prominent example of Soviet Socialist biology. Trofim Lysenko not only provided the USSR with a scientist who aimed to quell their production concerns while maintaining philosophical integrity, but also offered an opportunity to propagate a genuine proletarian success story. To Roll-Hansen, this view suggests that, though Stalinism may have been important to the success of Lysenko’s career, other factors played central roles as well. Throughout _The Lysenko Effect_, Roll-Hansen displays an impressive understanding of Marxist philosophy, Soviet bureaucracy, and the history of genetics, all of which are vital to producing a proper discussion of Lysenkoism. The book is packed with information from varied sources, including speeches, committees, and personal letters between Lysenko and his colleagues within the scientific community. The book’s ten chapters succeed in avoiding the pitfalls of previous scholarly work that tended to allow Stalin’s personality cult to blur distinctions between political initiatives, totalitarianism, and the evolution of scientific thought. In Roll-Hansen’s view, the historiography of Lysenko’s career is plagued with simplified appraisals which conveniently ignore political and social circumstances that made Lysenkoism a plausible feature of Soviet science. Specifically, he claims, Lysenkoism was a relatively predictable occurrence given the application of Marxist-Leninist philosophy in the USSR’s nascent years. This thesis offers a challenge to the bulk of previous work on the subject. Roll-Hansen mentions that Western luminaries such as Loren Graham and David Jarovsky, as well as Russian nationals Zhores Medvedev and Valerii Soyfer, have largely ignored the political explanations for Lysenko’s successes. According to The Lysenko Effect, “the shocking experiences of the totalitarian Stalinist system” have resulted in a propensity for scholars to ignore reasonable explanations for Lysenkoism, thereby relegating it to nothing more than a pseudoscientific symptom of despotism (14). Roll-Hansen provides a nuanced reading of Lysenkoism that is free from any perceived Cold War jargon that, in some cases at least, has resulted in the aforementioned assessments of Lysenko’s prominence.* While Roll-Hansen acknowledges that Stalinist policies and tactics propelled the agronomist’s influence, the author suggests that Lysenko’s ideas flourished not because of arbitrary Communist support, but because it was based on apparently rational scientific theories consistent with Soviet Marxism-Leninism. There are also elements of the book that make it useful beyond the community of Soviet scholars or historians of agricultural sciences or genetics. In the book’s opening chapter, Roll-Hansen explains that, initially, the Soviet system inspired excitement in its people, particularly among scientists. The author notes that the genuine enthusiasm of the scientific community was due to a basic difference between Western attitudes towards science, where it was an “important cultural element,” and the USSR, where it was “state creed” (15). In its positive outcomes, this approach led to tremendous accomplishments like Sputnik, rapid arms development, and legions of state-trained scientists and engineers. Moreover, Roll-Hansen notes that contemporary Russian historians, such as Alexei Kojevnikov and Nikolai Krementsov, describe the scientific climate of the Stalinist era as relatively normal even by modern standards. Roll-Hansen lends credence to this statement by noting that Soviet biologists competed for favor by “lobbying political bosses” and engaging in public discourse (14). This commentary, when combined with the scientific community’s initial attitude towards the Soviet system, prompts readers to draw parallels between the Stalinist and modern Western scientific communities and question the fundamental basis of the traditional explanation for Lysenkoism: totalitarian excess. While Roll-Hansen answers multiple questions regarding Lysenko and his career, his approach begs the much larger question: “what other aspects of Stalinist society require a re-assessment along similar lines?” This book adds to the author’s work in other monographs on the consequences of ideological and political influences on scientific research. The Lysenko Effect compliments Roll-Hansen’s Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland by focusing on early twentieth century trends in science and the consequences of political and ideological influences on the field in general. Each publication shows the skill of the author in juxtaposing state policy and political history and philosophy with a scientist’s master of genetics, biology, and other fields in the history of science. Though the subjects of each book are different (plants and humans), each work conveys a similar message: scientific philosophies, anachronisms and endorsements from tyrants notwithstanding, are often based in at least a sliver of rational scientific theory. Nils Roll Hansen posits that though Lysenkoism is a topic which has been explored time and again, flaws in previous scholarship merit a complete reinvestigation. The Lysenko Effect reads as something of a rehabilitation of Trofim Lysenko. Rather than describing a Stalinist stooge, Roll-Hansen portrays the “Barefoot Scientist” as a genuine, albeit obdurate and professionally limited, scientist genuinely motivated to become a respected intellectual. As the Cold War and its fervent atmosphere becomes a gradually more distant memory, increasingly impassive arguments concerning various aspects of the era are an inevitability; indeed if Kojevnikov and Krementsov are any indication it is likely the future status quo. The Lysenko Effect is a step in that direction and provides a much needed analysis of a set of ideas in, but not of, a Cold War world. The result is a work which evocatively argues a concise and more tangible explanation for the rise of Trofim Lysenko. James Allen Nealy, Jr. University of Houston- Downtown <firstname.lastname@example.org> * See Simon Sebag Montefiore, _Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Vintage: New York, 2003)_, 576; Robert Conquest, _Stalin: Breaker of Nations_ (Penguin: New York, 1992), 211, 276-277; Tony Judt, _Postwar: Europe Since 1945_ (Penguin: New York, 2005), 174.